Monday, September 21, 2009

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Hello, all! I am still here, I think. Finding something to write about when your ideas won't gel makes for an exercise in futility. Alas, the curse of the monkey mind! One day, maybe, I will find my monkey has decided to settle down for a banana for a few moments.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for a long while- I was able to hear Thich Nhat Hanh speak in person. Despite the fact that I do not consider myself to be a Zen Buddhist, I do consider Thay to be my primary spiritual teacher. Some would say he is my Guru, but I do not feel comfortable with that title. Growing up in San Francisco in the 70's has given me a significant bias away from "guru".

Much was said during his hour and a half on stage. Not all of it made it into my head (I was happy to hear there were others who had trouble staying focused). I kept getting frustrated with myself for not being able to maintain a reasonable attention span. After all, this man is 83 years old and will not be giving this kind of public class for much longer. But, there it is. Monkey brain.

The title of the talk was "Our True Agenda". I will admit that I am a bit lost as to how the title related to the talk, but it may come to me later. The two things that did stick with me, though, were this-

Compassionate listening- Until we can learn to listen with compassion, without judgment, with open hearts and empty minds, we can not end the suffering around us, or more truthfully, our own suffering. As he spoke about listening to others without preconceptions or agendas, I felt his words hit home, deeply.

I am not a compassionate listener. I am a clinical listener. That is what I am trained for. I have spent the last 12 years listening to more people than I can remember. When someone tells me something, I automatically listen for "the clue". The clue to whatever it is that ails them, and I use that information to try to formulate a solution. My listening skills have been honed to be a problem solver, and while it is a useful skill for diagnosing illness and injury, it is not always good for simply being a listening, supportive presence.

The judgmental aspect of my personality is not one that makes me terribly happy. Why would it? Being challenged to not only empathize, but to accept, other people's points of view is an uncomfortable place for me. Where is the need for a solution? How do I fit myself in this?

Of course, that is the point- to not fit myself into the situation and simply be a compassionate, supportive presence for whoever needs it. This will take some time.

Stop so that you can arrive- We spend our days speeding through life. There is always a goal to attain, there is always a deadline. Everyday, the world around us presents us with more information than we could ever hope to digest and instead of taking just what we need and moving on, we try to shovel it all down our throats and then hope we don't throw it all back up.

As I drove home from the talk, I kept missing my exits on the freeway because of my lack of attention. I kept having to double back to get back on track, and I am quite sure I added at least 20 minutes to my drive. No matter what I tried, I could not keep my mind clear- ironically, my head was cluttered up with what I had heard Thay tell us and couldn't keep my mind on the route. Without attention to my task, I was never going to arrive home. I had to slow my mind down so I could get in the moment, arrive in the moment, so that I could arrive home.

How often does this happen to us? How often do we let life get away from us and accept that we have not arrived anywhere other than the same old tired thoughts we always have? Why do I accept the rut that I frequently find myself in?

Time to stop. So I can arrive.

One last shot of Thich Nhat Hanh, before I go. Until next time!